Bowdoin Square Theatre

Bowdoin Square,
Boston, MA 02114

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William L. Coale, Ph.D.
William L. Coale, Ph.D. on December 22, 2021 at 11:42 pm

I found an ad and a short article from August, 1934. The Gary Cooper movie “Operator 13” and five vaudeville acts were on the bill, with organists Arthur Martell and Vera Carlton at the console. I’ll post the articles in the photos section.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm

In 1932 there were 4 theaters in this area wich featured live vaudeville acts in addition to movies:This theater, the Bowdoin Square Theatre; the Scollay Square Olympia Theatre; the Old Howard Theatre on Howard Street; and the Casino Theatre on Hanover Street. The Old Howard and the Casino were both primarily Burlesque theaters and may have had age restrictions, so that Sam Brooks, age 13, would most likely have attended the Scollay Square Theatre or the Bowdoin Square Theatre, or both.

Bweez on July 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

My father-in-law (95 yrs old) recently told us that he was about 13 years old (1932) when he would go to the theater in Scollay Square and watch the vaudeville shows. He eventually taught himself to tap dance and became a performer. He said he danced in-between songs by Buddy Clark. If you have ads or signs, I believe he said his name was on a few of them. His name is Samuel H. Brooks, it was probably Sam Brooks. I’ll try to get more information from him about the theatre if you like. What kind of info do you want? His memory is still pretty good but his speaking ability is slightly impaired from a stroke. We’ll see what we can do. I would love to get a bill or ad with his name on it, then he would be eligible to be put in the vaudeville/burlesque historical records.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on August 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I was a junior-size movie goer in 1948, and the admission prices that dgidez quotes above are correct for a second-run movie theater like the Bowdoin. I usually paid from 15 cents – 25 cents for tickets at that time.

dgidez on August 5, 2013 at 12:25 am

My Uncle was an usher at this theater in 1948. Admission was $.12 for Children and $.25 for adults.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm

This theater’s entrance and lobby were constructed in an existing building which dated back to at least 1860. In the book “Boston Then and Now” (Dover 1982) there are photos dating from 1860, 1925, and 1934. The theater entrance is missing from the first photo.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

In a 1918 Boston street directory, the Bowdoin Square Theatre is listed at “0” Bowdoin Square. Its office is listed at 183 Court St. To the left of its lobby entrance was the Hotel Coolidge.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm

There is a rather long article entitled “Boston Theatres of To-Day” by Atherton Brownell in the Sept. 1895 issue of Bostonian Magazine. It has 2 photos of the Bowdoin Square Theatre, one exterior and one interior. Plus one sketch of the box office area in the lobby. It’s hard to tell, but in the exterior shot, the arch above the entrance appears to be open and not filled in. Th entrance was very fancy, but not very wide. It was at the left end of a building. The interior shot was made by someone standing in the right-front orchestra area looking toward the front portion of the left side-wall of the auditorium. It was quite ornate. The proscenium arch appears to be rectangular. Next to its left edge was a large arch with columns on each side. At the bottom of the arch were 2 big boxes on the orchestra floor. Above them were 5 small boxes which dropped like stair treads from the front of the first balcony down to the right end of the arch. At the top of the arch was a chandelier. Very nice auditorium, now gone for over 50 years.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 25, 2006 at 11:43 am

The Bowdoin Square Theatre is listed in the 1897-98 edition of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide. The seating capacity is listed as 1,600. Admission prices range from 25 cents to $1. The theatre had both electric and gas lighting. The proscenium opening was 32 feet wide x 34 feet high. The stage was 40 feet deep. The theatre was on the ground floor and there were 10 places in the orchestra pit.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 8, 2006 at 10:22 am

Note that the nearby Palace Theatre is also on the 1895 map, at Sudbury and Court streets, east side.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 7, 2006 at 4:20 pm

The Bowdoin Square Theatre is also shown on this 1895 map. It is on Court Street, three buildings away from Chardon Street.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 5, 2006 at 10:09 am

In his 1977 book “Broadway Down East” Elliot Norton states that the Bowdoin closed on Friday, May 27, 1955. Norton has very few closing dates in his book, so he must have made a note of this one. If there had been any advance publicity of the closing, I would probably have attended.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 23, 2006 at 10:14 am

The Bowdoin Square Theatre had a small ad in the theatre page of the Boston Post for Wed. February 25, 1931. There were 2 movies plus 7 acts of Vaudeville on stage, with the further note that “Tonight is Cabaret Night – Extra Vaudeville Acts”. It must have made for a rather long show, unless they omitted one of the movies at the evening performance.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 22, 2006 at 10:07 am

The Olympic is not mentioned in the Donald King book, either. I once saw a sharp old photo taken from the north (west?) looking south (east?) with the Olympic in the foreground and the Bowdoin Sq. Theatre at the far end of the block. The Olympic had an arched entrance just like the Bowdoin’s. I have no idea what sort of shows it presented; possibly Vaude at first, with films later ???

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 21, 2006 at 11:14 am

Here’s a more direct link to that 1928 map.

I have not added the Olympic to this site because I don’t know anything about it, beyond its presence on the map. David Kruh’s book about Scollay Square does not mention it. Do you know if it ever showed movies?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on January 21, 2006 at 10:41 am

You can find the Bowdoin Theatre on a 1928 colored map which Ron Newman posted last June to the page for the Strand Theatre in Scollay Square. The Bowdoin’s site was in Bowdoin Square near Chardon Street. To its left was the Majestic Hotel and next to that you can see the site of the Olympic Theatre. The hotel and the Olympic were demolished for the Telephone Co. building. I believe that when the Bowdoin Sq. Theatre was demolished, a new wing was added to the telephone building covering the theatre’s site.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 7, 2005 at 11:31 am

I knew this theatre as “Bowdoin” without the “Square”. It was still open when I was a kid showing double-features. I regret that I never went into it. It was located just to the north of Scollay Square, on the east side of the street. Had a bulb-studded arch above the entrance if I recall correctly. It opened as a legit house designed by Clarence Blackall on Feb. 15 1892 and had about 1500 seats. Around the turn of the 20th Century, there was a theatre called the Olympic just a few doors to the north of the Bowdoin. It was just a small theatre and didn’t last long. The Bowdoin remained open until about 1953 0r 1954 or so. The demo year of 1955 sounds right to me.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 12, 2005 at 7:30 am

According to Donald C. King’s new book The Theatres of Boston: A Stage and Screen History, the Bowdoin Square Theatre opened on February 15, 1892. C.H. Blackall was the architect, assisted by Leon H. Lempert.

In Auguest 1897, George Lothrop took control of the Bowdoin Square, presenting melodrama at popular prices. The Lothrop Stock Company occupied it for many years. It later became home to vaudeville and double-feature films. It was demolished in 1955.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 11:06 pm

And here’s a 1934 photo, and the accompanying description. The vertical sign is more visible in this photo than the marquee or the building façade.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 9:20 am

From the Bostonian Society Library, here’s a 1933 photo of Bowdoin Square, including the theatre. The photo is described here.

The telephone company building still stands, as does the Custom House tower, but I think just about everything else in this photo has been obliterated.

teecee on March 15, 2005 at 12:21 pm

LM’s first post is from the Boston Athenaeum website. I am sure that they have more information at their physical location if you are in the Boston area.